January 07, 2004

The Pakistan Conundrum

What to do about Pakistan? One can almost hear the hand-wringing amidst the policy-making community when that country (or Saudi) comes up.

On the one hand--you look at some of the positives.

1) Musharraf is cooperating against al-Qaeda (but not, as much, against the Taliban or neo-Taliban, which we'll look at in more detail below).

2) He's boldy pursuing peace gambits with the Indians which would go a long way towards stabilizing South Asia (still, of course, a settlement is a long way off).

And on the other hand--you look at some of the negatives.

1) Pakistan's role as proliferator of nuclear technologies.

For instance, see this reporting on Pakistan's alleged assistance with Libya's nuke program (though there is no indication the Pakistani government itself was involved. Worth noting too, this fervent Pakistani denial of the story).

2) The (more radical) madrassas continue to pose a problem in term of breeding potential terrorists (and not just Pakistani ones).

3) Musharraf's failure to completely engage against the Taliban and neo-Talibs.

Former veteran diplomat Frank Wisner recently co-chaired a CFR Task Force report entitled "New Priorities in South Asia: U.S. Policy Toward India, Pakistan and Afghanistan".

Anyone curious about the future of this volatile region and the direction of American policy there should read it (or at least the exec summary). Here's a PDF version of the report.

The report addresses some of the 'bad' side of the Pakistan ledger that I've flagged above.

That said, the report doesn't have too much by way of pathbreaking recommendations on the nuclear proliferation front. The conventional wisdom is, of course, to press for more effective anti-proliferation controls, find ways to get Pakistan and India into the "global nuclear nonproliferation system," and the like.

That's pretty much what you get in the report.

The detailed NYT reporting on the matter certainly adds to the urgency of getting a better handle on this issue. But to put too much pressure on Musharraf, ramped up all of a sudden, given the risks he is taking on peacemaking with India (which would involve painful concessions on Kashmir) and cooperation with the U.S. on al-Qaeda (not to mention the assassination attempts) might just push matters to a breaking point.

It's become pretty common to blame a lot of the bad stuff that happens in Pakistan on rogue elements in the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (the "ISI").

This helps facilitate a narrative whereby the U.S., much like in the past, pursues a 'balancing act' of sorts with Pakistan. As part of this act, Musharraf is the good guy helping us (generally speaking) and needing back up to fend off the bad guys operating in the shadows of the ISI.

Still, to some extent, this isn't just a convenient fiction. Doubtless, anti-proliferation efforts would be enhanced by beating back ISI influence as much as possible--without a full-blown destabilization in the Pakistani polity.

Bottom line: there is no magic bullet or panacea on the nuclear front. But reducing the ISI's general influence in domestic politics and the military would certainly not hurt.

Let's also take a look at the madrassa issue and continued Musharraf support for the Talib and neo-Talib.

On the latter, we unfortunately can't expect 100% compliance.

As detailed in Wisner's report, Musharraf's post 9/11 abandonment of the Taliban "marked a defeat for Islamabad's 'forward' policy of trying to transform Afghanistan into a client state to provide 'strategic depth' against India."

More recently, the abandonment of the Taliban has certainly looked less total. As the report notes:

"Islamabad cooperated with U.S. forces during Operation Enduring Freedom and has continued to do so in pursuing the remnants of al-Qaeda. Islamabad has been less vigorous in pursuing Taliban supporters that have found refuge in the Pashtun tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, particularly after pro-Taliban Islamist parties won provincial elections in the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) and joined the ruling coalition in Baluchistan."

The hope here, of course, is if peace talks with India go well--Musharraf will not need to be as concerned about 'strategic depth' in terms of a major sphere of influence in Afghanistan. He can therefore, one would hope, crack down more on Taliban and neo-Taliban (at least those that appear most willing to cross the border and engage U.S. troops).

Needless to say, the U.S. should be exerting its good offices and diplomatic muscle to ensure Indian-Pakistani talks get all the backup they need.

Also important, and not often discussed, is ISI support for warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. He's doing his best to destablize the U.S. influence in Afghanistan, is very influential, and we need to signal in very clear terms to Musharraf that Islamabad must do its utmost to rein him in.

Finally, the madrassa issue. This gets us to basic questions that people like Don Rumsfeld turn to when they ponder whether we are really winning the war on terror.

Put bluntly, and paraphrasing Rummy, the query is something along the lines of whether we are killing more terrorists than radical madrassas are producing.

And, while it's not macho to talk about endemic poverty, NGOs, and all that kind of lily-livered stuff amidst some commentators--the bottom line is we need to look at some of these factors and/or possible solutions when tackling the madrassa issue.

For instance, is it just coincidence that there is so much radicalism in the NWFP? Is it just related to fervently held religious feelings in that part of the country? Or does poverty play a role?

Wisner's task force takes a view:

"Stress Help for Pashtun areas. The United States should be making support for projects in the Pashtun-populated areas of the NWFP, Baluchistan, and the federally administered tribal areas (FATA) a....priority. The fact that the Pashtun belt remains one of the poorest parts of Pakistan is doubtless one factor behind the appeal of the religious parties. Yet both the NWFP and Baluchistan have considerable although unexploited potential for supplying products needed for the reconstruction of neighboring and even less economically developed Afghanistan....Microfinance, rural development, better schools, and improved maternal and child health programs could significantly boost economic prospects in a region that has been chronically left behind and neglected."

Go read the report for other recommendations on how best to structure our financial assistance (more aid towards economic/social development, less security), strengthening local NGOs (some are "visionary but weak"), easing import restrictions on Pakistani textiles, and more.

More on Pakistan soon.

Posted by Gregory at January 7, 2004 08:03 PM
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